It is 6:30 am in a temperature- and oxygen-controlled residential block. Bob, who is a marsologist, is awakened by an unusual stench and murmuring sound of panicked residents. While figuring out what’s wrong, he hears Master X Æ A-13 from the toilet, “Papa, I have tried a lot but the vacuum system is not working, how do I flush and clean it now?” OMG! There’s no toilet papers on Mars, it’s just a solar powered vacuum system to get the “work done.” He can hear better the distant noises which are about the same complaints. There is no oxygen outside but one can’t breathe inside either☺.
Sh*t doesn’t stop here. Gradually, the electricity system starts shutting down. Dwellers of the red planet turn yellow because the blue planet is 242.73 million km away and they are trapped. Then they overhear on the system loudspeakers, “Hello! I am Chacha from Silicon Island. Your electricity system controls have been hacked! No evil intentions, just tell my wife to prepare chicken biryani for me. If I am satisfied with the taste, your electricity will be restored. Bye!”
Is he serious? Bob scratches his head. He wonders what will be the next desire of this old hacker! Where is our f*cking cybersecurity?”A help request is sent to the SASA headquarters with micro details of the situation and eccentric demands from the hacker. Active investigators instantly locate the IP address and place of the suspect. No matter in uniform or pajamas, face half-washed, toothbrush in hand, the efficient police force is mobilized towards the target. The doorbell rings and an aged lady opens the door.
Police: We are looking for an old man who created some trouble for us.
Lady: Oh! Did he again threaten someone so that I can make chow mein for him?
Police: No, this time he needs biryani. Would you please let us in so that we have a chat with him?
With a toothless smile and expectation of cannon fire on her hubby, she instantly cooperates. The old man is watching TV and refuses to say a word until she starts cooking. Somehow, the news became viral, prompting the media to tune in. On live TV, morning show hosts convince the lady to do some ninja moves in the kitchen so that mission Mars is saved.
At the SASA headquarters, IT manager Mr. Asse is furious with his cybersecurity expert Mr. Holes. Together, they review the security protocols that were established to block such breaches. System security controls and audits were designed by best known firms with regular reviews. Mr. Holes runs an automated system security check to identify potential vulnerabilities. A detailed report is generated which shows all the controls are active and effective. Conceding defeat, they call the investigating officer to inform him that only the hackers know what is wrong.
Meanwhile, the meal is served, Chacha enjoys it, so he sends a text message on his phone to someone. After a few minutes, news comes from Mars that electricity is completely restored. It was a great sigh of relief for everyone.
The puzzled officer shouts at the man, “You put so many lives at risk and a mission on stake, before going behind bars, tell us how you hacked the electricity system of Mars!”
Chacha: What have I done? It is my birthday. A young friend of mine said “if you want your favorite food today, just record a voice message for me.” So I did. For your information, I don’t even know how to use my computer properly, forget about hacking others.
Officer: Are you serious? Then who asked you to record the message?
Chacha: Evidently this feels more serious and is not a birthday prank. If really human lives are involved, I am going to disclose the details about my friends, but I need in writing that they will not be harmed before I speak another word.
The old man again puts his focus on TV. With no options left, the officers write a letter as desired. Once satisfied, he leads the officers towards the basement. Quietly, as the door opens, they get the shock of their life. A mini SASA! Wall sized screens, live data feeds, strange rotating antennas, potato chips everywhere, and 5 scientist-like kids aged between 5 and 12 got surprised by seeing police. So many wide open eyes and mouths under one roof! To cool things down, the old man takes the lead to introduce each other and shows the assurance letter to the gang.
The officer asks the kids, “From where did you get the funds to make this setup and how did you penetrate such a high security system?”
The kids’ leader starts the story:
Regarding project expenses, we have self-financed it. You must be thinking how we became so rich in this age! Did you hear the news of a lost 75,000 bitcoin hard disk? We searched for it for more than a year in landfills, made a device to locate underground hard disks, and a custom designed robot for precise digging. We dug up thousands of hard drives, retrieved their data, and in one good day found our treasure and became young multi-millionaires.
We have a craze to learn about technology, science, and space. We couldn’t get permission for Mars travel because we are too young to join universities, so we had to self-study. We accessed all publicly available relevant knowledge and believe still there is some hidden information which we have to explore. To achieve the purpose, we became masters of ethical hacking by learning through online courses. We tried to penetrate SASA systems but failed. During covid-19 lockdowns, there was a trend of working from home which turned out to be a window of opportunity for us. Firewalls and routers are more effective in office controlled environments, but when the target is at home the task becomes much easier. Since a VPN was not used by Mars mission programmers, we accessed their home systems and identified many loopholes in the security source code which set the foundation for our adventure which unfolded this morning.
X Æ A-13, the first victim of today’s hacking, is actually our friend. On his previous birthday, we sent him a device on Mars as a present. Apparently, it was a smart meter to gauge temperature, oxygen level, air pressure and cleanliness, but in fact it had a transmitter inside to send signals to us. Knowing the vulnerability in the source code of the systems, through the device we accessed the security system via internet Wi-Fi of the Mars residence.
With such a distance between planets, data transfer was a challenge. You will be amazed to know that we launched a small satellite in space to resolve the problem. All the information and instructions are passed to us through it. It was custom designed, manufactured in an eastern country and shipped in space by a company named Space-Z as a weather research satellite on records☺.
We are ready to share the vulnerabilities in code of security systems with SASA so that they are fixed as soon as possible. Not only that, based on received data from outer space, we wrote a technical paper about how to make sausages on Mars.
Officer: You guys are really something! Is cybersecurity on Mars different from Earth?
Kids: There is an inseparable connection between cybersecurity of Earth and Mars because of the open exchange of technology, communication, and human beings. All the technology has been exported by great humans to other planets. So, it is not different technically, but in terms of the impact, there is a major difference.
The old lady, the chef, jumps in the discussion: I am actually a PhD in spacomatics. Let me share my thoughts. Humans can survive in their natural habitat no matter as a husband or wife, it is hot or cold, deserts or wilderness, floods or wars. Contrary, a temporary stay on Mars is good for research purposes but that planet is not compatible for permanent human living. All its residential blocks are tech powered. If the electricity is off, the life switch of its residents will turn off as well. Cybersecurity for earth is more about financial damage first than comes life, but on Mars it is all about life and survival than anything else. As we crossed the limits of human access, efforts are needed to pass the current knowledge boundaries of cybersecurity as well to ensure safety.
Officer: After so many surprises, I fear a rocket will emerge under my feet. Based on our investigation, it is revealed that the suspected old hacker is a mystery dean of an underground University of Rebel Youngsters, where students do some cutting edge research. The lady thought to be a portrait in a kitchen is in fact a book of knowledge and intellect in herself. We learnt that we are real culprits for being negligent. It was just an interruption of sleep this morning for some folks with a stark warning that such security breaches might send Mr. Bob along with all residents of planet Mars to eternal rest in any event.
I guess it’s enough drama for the day.